Pregame Six Pack: An all Hoosiers Shamrock Series


It’s that time of year again. The annual Shamrock Series. For a program built upon tradition and history, consider the Shamrock Series something similar — only started five years ago. (So maybe not that similar at all.)

But the newest barnstorming efforts have warmed up even the most ardent traditionalist, and while the Irish will be taking the field in alternate uniforms (more on this later), the game has grown on people. Starting in San Antonio, moving to Yankee Stadium, the nation’s capital, Solider Field and Jerry Jones’ football Xanadu, the Shamrock Series has taken Notre Dame into geographically important locations and usually paired the Irish will an equally interesting opponent. Making it even better? The Irish have always gone home happy, rolling along to a victory in each of the five games.

Of course, battling Purdue in Indianapolis won’t get confused for playing Miami in Chicago or playing the first football game in new Yankee Stadium. But for an in-state rivalry that’s often felt like second fiddle, it’s almost appropriate that the annual battle for the Shillelagh will end Saturday night, putting a stop to a 69-game streak that was tied for the fourth longest in NCAA history.

With two Irish captains hailing from inside the city limits, returning to Indianapolis will be a homecoming of sorts. With 35 native Hoosiers taking the field between teams, it’ll serve as a regional showcase, not necessarily the original idea for the game, but nothing to be ashamed of, either.

With NBC broadcasting another primetime affair (kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET), let’s get your ready with our Pregame Six Pack. As usual, here are six tidbits, fun facts, leftovers or miscellaneous musings to get you ready for Notre Dame and Purdue.


After 69 years, a streak ends. Let’s show it some respect. 

Notre Dame and Purdue are set to play again in 2020, but an annual battle that dates back to 1946 is ending. That’s a product of a nine-game Big Ten schedule and Notre Dame’s five-game scheduling alliance with the ACC.

A week after the college football world practically mourned the loss of the Irish’s rivalry with Michigan, the break in the series with Purdue is merely a passing thought. And while the Irish’s 57-26-2 record is fairly one-sided, consider this a reminder that there’s been some very good football played in this series.

Here’s a walk down memory lane:

1950, 1954, 1965 and 1967: Purdue knocked off a Notre Dame team that was ranked No. 1 in the country.
1968: With Purdue ranked No. 1 and Notre Dame No.2, the Irish knocked off the Boilermakers 37-22
1979: Purdue quarterback Mark Herrmann led a second-half comeback to beat the No. 5 Irish 28-22.
1984: In their last (and only) neutral site meeting, an unranked Purdue squad knocked off No. 8 Notre Dame 23-21.
1997: In just his second game at Purdue, Joe Tiller shocked Bob Davie’s No. 12 Irish 28-17.
1999: With 3rd-and-goal at the 1, Notre Dame can’t get a final snap off, losing to No. 20 Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium.
2000: Returning the favor, Nick Setta’s field goal with time expiring beat Drew Brees and the No. 13 Boilermakers
2009: With an injury that looked a lot worse than “turf toe,” Jimmy Clausen hit Kyle Rudolph to pull out a win 24-21.
2012: After Purdue tied the game at 17, Tommy Rees entered to boos and led ND to a winning field goal in the game’s final seconds.
2013: Purdue scored the game’s first 10 points, but a 21-point fourth quarter and a pick six help ND win 31-24.

If Purdue managed to find a way to pull off a victory on Saturday night, it’d go to the top of this list as one of the most improbable in the series. And Boilermakers head coach Darrell Hazell knows it.

“I think we can go win this game with the mentality that no one expects us to win,” Hazell said this week.


Notre Dame has a chance to start 3-0. That’s a much bigger deal than you’d expect

Notre Dame stands a win against Purdue away from starting the season 3-0. That would mark the second time in three seasons that the Irish have accomplished that feat.

That stat likely garners a polite golf clap from a usually demanding Irish crowd. But consider that the last time Notre Dame pulled something like that off in two out of three years was during a four-year run in the glory days of Lou Holtz, when the Irish started 3-0 in four straight seasons from 1987-90.

After entering more than a few seasons over the past decade or so with lofty expectations, “Call me after September” turned into a default answer when asked if the Irish had what it takes to compete that season. But a victory over Purdue and a bye week off before heading to the Meadowlands to play Syracuse put the Irish in a place where they’ll likely be 4-0 when they welcome Stanford to South Bend, a game that could have early playoff implications.

From there, things toughen quite a bit, with the Cardinal, North Carolina and Florida State Notre Dame’s October foes. But for anyone looking for another data point that Brian Kelly has things pointing in the right direction, just look at the past 25 years.


Another week, another football game with no news on the suspension of Notre Dame’s five players. 

While the resounding victory certainly muted any of the riotous volleying through Notre Dame’s fandom, another week has come and gone with no update from the university administration on the academic honesty hearings for DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.

After telling the media two weeks ago that the official investigation into the matter was finished, the Honor Code proceedings, run by the Provost office, have moved forward with radio silence. While that’s been frustrating to the players, their families, their teammates and the Irish coaching staff, Kelly continues to take a “What can you do?” approach.

“You guys are anxious. I’m anxious. We’re all anxious,” Kelly said. “We all want to know but there’s nothing we can do.

“This is separation of church and state. This is the deans. They have their domain and that’s their business. It truly is their business and I respect that. They don’t give me advice about play calling and that’s the truth of the matter. Whether that’s a poor analogy or not, they handle academic honest. They handle those things. That’s their domain and that’s their world. I want my guys back but I get it.”

Kelly said that in a hypothetical world where any of his players are cleared to return to the team even on Friday, he’d dress them and bring them to Indianapolis. Unsure of how prepared they’d be, he’d welcoming them back with open arms.

But result is still unexpected, so the Irish will likely do battle down three projected starters and two veteran reserves for the third time this year.


In Notre Dame’s two opening victories, Everett Golson and the Irish offense have finished the first half with a flourish. 

While both of the Irish’s first two victories looked to be of the blowout variety, both football games would’ve had a much different complexion if Everett Golson didn’t play incredibly dynamic football in the minutes before halftime. The Irish scored a combined 28 points in the final four minutes of the second quarter, putting up two touchdowns against both Rice and Michigan.

“Offensively, obviously the quarterback is a special guy. He makes a lot of plays,” Hazell said this week when asked talking about Golson. “He got himself out of trouble against Rice, he got himself out of trouble against Michigan and made some huge plays for them, especially right before the half. I thought that was the big deciding factor in both of those games, he made some very big plays.”

Golson’s numbers in these critical moments are ridiculous, with the Irish scoring touchdowns on their final two drives before half in each football game. Against Rice, Golson was a bit more heroic; against Michigan more methodical.

Golson was three of four before scampering into the end zone from 14 yards out to score with just 3:18 remaining. But after Matthias Farley’s interception of Driphus Jackson, Golson threw two perfect long balls. The first was dropped by Will Fuller, but C.J. Prosise made amends for an earlier drop, converting a 53-yarder for a touchdown with just five seconds remaining in the half.

Against Michigan, Golson’s penultimate drive before half was a time-consuming march. The Irish went 13 plays over 5:14, with Golson going six of seven before hitting Amir Carlisle on a rollout on 3rd and Goal. The critical throw on that drive was a 4th and 3 conversion, where Golson threw a perfect strike to Will Fuller who beat Blake Countess on an inside release.

With only 1:24 left on the clock, Golson went to work again, escaping danger before finding Fuller, Cam McDaniel and Ben Koyack. But the dagger was the perfect throw to the corner of the end zone, with Fuller beating Countess on 3rd and 1 for a back-breaking 24-yard touchdown.

That staggeringly good football in the minutes before halftime serves as a bullet to the heart of an opponent. We’ll see if Golson delivers another one on Saturday night.


In the short history of the Shamrock Series, Under Armour’s first effort is a good one. 

Few things in college football are as hallowed as the golden helmets and traditional blue and gold of Notre Dame’s uniforms. But even fewer things are more beloved to recruits and 18-to-22-year-old college football players than alternate uniforms.

So while the men on the front porch will never get past seeing the Irish wearing some uniform that makes them look like a team straight out of Any Given Sunday, give Under Armour credit for playing to the soul of the university when it designed this year’s uniform.




While we’re talking alternate uniforms, let’s turn back the clock and take a look at the recent tweaks made.

Notre Dame vs. Army in 2010:











Review: Man, that helmet used to be ugly. But it’s tough to screw up that classic green jersey. 


Notre Dame vs. Maryland in 2011:











Review: Look at all the mismatching golds, all on George Atkinson. And don’t get me started on the helmet swirls. 


Notre Dame vs. Michigan in 2011:











Review: Everything about this game looked pretty good until the fourth quarter. Even the retro uniforms. 


Notre Dame vs. Miami in 2012:









Review: Inverted leprechauns, unbalanced helmet colors. The Irish sure played better than they looked. 


Notre Dame vs. Arizona State in 2013:









Review: Not much to complain about with these uniforms. The all-white look was really smooth. 


After mastering the fundamentals under Bob Diaco, the Irish are playing a new game on defense under Brian VanGorder. 

While the fist pump may be the thing that went viral, Brian VanGorder’s work coaching the Irish defense is doing the same thing to future opponents. After a flurry of third down blitzes and packages suffocated Michigan’s offense, Purdue is just one of ten remaining opponents that are hard at work breaking down tape of Notre Dame’s multiple looks.

Tim Prister over at Irish Illustrated took a deep dive ($) into VanGorder’s exotic third down looks against Devin Gardner and came out thinking no two looked the same. That evaluation may be mirrored by Purdue offensive coordinator John Shoop, who talked about the multiplicity of the Irish blitz packages while complimenting the personnel as well.

“They’re a talented group. They’re a talented group at every level, up front, at the linebackers, in the secondary,” Shoop said. “Scheme-wise, they have as much volume as anybody we’ve seen in a long time.”

Darrell Hazell was adamant about Purdue needing to succeed on first and second down, likely calling on running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, the Big Ten sprint champion.

“Their makeup is completely different on third down than it is on first and second down,” Hazell said, talking about the Irish defense. “You can’t let them get into 3rd-and-9s or 11s, because then they’re going to heat you up.”

For all the worries that existed this offseason about a young Irish defense struggling to mesh with a complex, scheme-heavy defensive coordinator (don’t lie, the name Tenuta came into your head a few times), Notre Dame’s defense has been one of the surprising early successes of the season.

Interestingly, Kelly credited the guy who was no longer on the sidelines for making it all possible.

“It was a big shift. But the fundamentals are there,” Kelly said earlier this week. “When we came here, Bob was the right fit for me, as we needed to reestablish the fundamentals of defense here at Notre Dame. We did that. We laid those principals down, and now we were ready for that next step. And Brian’s brought in some very aggressive packages, especially on third down. Those teams that come in to the game on third down have been very disruptive, and I think it’s the next step for our defensive progression.”

Chris Terek’s flip from Wisconsin gives Notre Dame five OL commits in third straight class


For the second straight recruiting cycle, a coaching announcement was quickly followed up by a Wisconsin recruiting target committing to Notre Dame. Quite literally just as the Badgers announced Luke Fickell would be their new head coach on Sunday, four-star offensive guard Chris Terek (Glenbard West High School; Glen Ellyn, Ill.) flipped his commitment from Wisconsin to Notre Dame.

A year ago, the very first thing Irish head coach Marcus Freeman did after his introductory press conference was go visit Billy Schrauth in Fond du Lac, Wis., who joined the Notre Dame class shortly thereafter.

Terek is the No. 220 player in the country, per, and the No. 21 offensive guard. He had been committed to the Badgers since late June, but when Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst one game into October, schools began chasing Terek anew. Despite holding scholarship offers from Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa, as well as Kentucky, Iowa State and Boston College, Terek considered only the Irish through the fall.

“I don’t care about any other schools that aren’t Wisconsin or Notre Dame,” Terek told Inside ND Sports last month. “Notre Dame, they’ve got a pretty crazy track record. They do very well with their O-linemen. (Offensive line) coach (Harry) Hiestand is awesome. And they seem like they’re really building something there.”

At 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, Terek is not as massive as most Irish offensive tackles, though he spent his high school career playing right tackle. That fits with Hiestand’s broad recruiting approach of chasing only tackles and finding which ones will work on the interior at the next level. Terek is likely such a guard.

His high school ran to the right, presumably because Terek was plowing the way. His massive lower body — which Notre Dame strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis should enjoy molding — gives Terek ample power, something that Hiestand could turn loose on many Irish running plays.

The fifth offensive lineman in this recruiting class, Terek gives Notre Dame 25 total commits expected to sign during the early signing period beginning Dec. 21. continues to rank that class the No. 2 in the country.

Signing five offensive linemen in a class may seem over the top, especially considering the Irish could return as many as 13 from this year’s roster, but with one-time transfers allowed without missing a season of action, that number will reduce itself naturally. Some of those 13 will not return to South Bend next year, chasing playing time elsewhere in 2023, and some of the five commits will follow that same path down the line.

In that regard, signing five offensive linemen may be the new Notre Dame norm. This will be the third recruiting cycle in a row of five offensive lineman signees, spanning two offensive line coaches.

Four-star Charles Jagusah, No. 8 offensive tackle in the country
Four-star Sam Pendleton
Four-star Sullivan Absher
Three-star Joe Otting

Highlights: USC 38, Notre Dame 27 — Arm, legs and foot of Caleb Williams too much for Irish upset bid

USC Trojans defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 38-27 during a NCAA football game.
Getty Images

Marcus Freeman stuck to his preseason plan. And while no single decision or play decides a game all on its own, especially not when No. 15 Notre Dame (8-4) lost to No. 6 USC (11-1) by two scores, 38-27, on Saturday, Freeman’s final pregame choice may have cost the Irish.

Notre Dame won the coin toss and opted to defer possession until the second half, at which point the Trojans obviously chose to receive the opening kickoff. This has been Freeman’s preference all season.

“If you just ask me right now, if I had to make a decision today, it’d probably be to defer,” he said on Aug. 29. “Just try to get that extra possession for the second half, but that changes game by game.”

By seeking that extra possession in the second half in Los Angeles, Freeman gave USC’s dynamic offense a ripe chance to take a lead and immediately weakened the best piece of the Irish offense.

“It’s difficult to play catch-up to any team,” Freeman said after the final game of his debut season as a head coach. “But when you’re not able to stop their offense, it’s extremely difficult. We weren’t able to do that at critical points of the game today.”

The first of those critical points came when the Trojans sliced through Notre Dame’s defense for a methodical touchdown drive to open the game. Obviously, the Irish thought they could stop USC; no defensive-minded coaching staff reaches kickoff thinking otherwise. But practically, Freeman and defensive coordinator Al Golden assuredly recognized the challenge ahead of them: USC quarterback Caleb Williams’ immense talent is apparent after watching only a few plays of film.

And Freeman and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees have watched Notre Dame’s offense stop and start through 11 games; they assuredly recognized it would not score on every single possession.

As soon as the Trojans received that opening kickoff, the pressure was on Rees and junior quarterback Drew Pyne to keep up with Williams until he slipped up, if he slipped up. Instead, the Irish gained four yards on a three-and-out on their first possession. Williams subsequently took a 10-0 lead.

If Notre Dame had received the opening kickoff, it would have had two chances to put points on the board before Williams had any chance to open a two-score lead. As soon as there was a two-score lead, the Irish ground game could not dictate terms as diligently.

Eight of Notre Dame’s first 13 plays, its first two drives, were runs from either Logan Diggs or Audric Estimé, gaining 22 yards. On the remaining six Irish drives (ignoring the two-play possession just before halftime), only 10 of 37 plays were runs for either sophomore, gaining 55 yards.

Freeman felt Notre Dame’s offense was still “efficient,” and it was, averaging 7.8 yards per play, but it was also stressed. The Irish were in a “two-minute situation,” per Freeman, midway through the fourth quarter. Urgency may not have yet been as distinct before then, but oscillating 10-point and 17-point deficits did not inspire a sense of time to spare. Pyne needed to keep chucking, completing nearly every pass he threw.

He wanted to attempt one more. When Pyne pulled a zone-read out of Diggs’ hands, he said he did so with the intention of throwing to a receiver in the flat. Instead, he lost control of the ball.

That was the end of the extra possession Freeman sought in the second half. By then, the pressure was already long on Notre Dame.

That combination is what condemned Freeman’s pregame — preseason — choice. If Notre Dame had scored to start the second half, the result would have excused the questionable process, though the process would still have been questioned, given the Irish already trailed such.

“That’s a 10-point game at the time,” Freeman said. “We get the ball, we’re driving down the field, … we’re rolling. QB and RB exchange, and those can’t happen. They can’t happen.”

Then Freeman unintentionally reinforced the argument of anyone still doubting USC’s validity. The Trojans have a plus-22 turnover margin this season. In 12 games, they have benefited from 26 turnovers. More than a few of them were gifts from the opponent rather than defensive excellence.

“(If) they do something spectacular and they create a takeaway, good for them,” Freeman said. “But for us to give the ball away on a self-inflicted wound on a QB-running back exchange, those are inexcusable.”

Fear of recency bias prevents drawing any comparisons to Williams. Next week, Utah’s physical defense and more consistent offense may prove too much for this USC run to the Playoff, and if Williams makes a costly mistake there, comparing him to the dual-threat greats of the last 20 years could be perceived as over-reactionary.

But on Saturday night, this one game, he was every bit the marvel as any such name that has come to mind.

“He’s freaky athletic,” Irish senior linebacker JD Bertrand said. “It shows.”

Notre Dame will spend the next 10.5 months pondering how to better contain Williams while still pressuring him. On first viewing, there never seemed a moment an Irish pass rusher had blatantly overpursued. The presumptive Heisman winner was just that good.

“You see it happen over and over all year,” Freeman saaid. “His ability to feel pressure, to spin out of it, we told our guys, he’s going to spin. Work up field, he’s elusive.

“He’s got huge legs, like he’s a running back back there at times. But he’s got an arm of a great quarterback. He’s really difficult to bring down.”

Irish fans and players and coaches alike can be frustrated today by the praise being heaped upon Williams from all corners, but such is the reward of tallying four touchdowns in a showcase bestowed by playing in arguably college football’s greatest rivalry, certainly its rivalry covering the most distance. And that alone is a compliment to Notre Dame.

Williams now even has the longest punt of USC’s season at 58 yards. Literally.

Having Williams pooch punt twice was a savvy approach by the Trojans to avoid the risks of the Irish punt-block unit and its seven blocked boots this season.

Two factors allowed USC to get away with the unorthodox approach. First of all, Notre Dame never stopped Williams & Co. before they had at least gotten toward midfield. Hypothetically, say the Trojans had gained only three yards on their third drive instead of 15. It is not a hard hypothetical to conjure, given Williams had to evade pressure from fifth-year defensive end Justin Ademilola before somehow finding receiver Mario Williams along the sideline for a 12-yard gain to create a 4th-and-8.

Punting from their own 30 in this hypothetical, Caleb Williams may have given Irish safety Brandon Joseph a chance at returning the punt against USC’s offense. Instead, Williams was able to kick a relative line drive into the end zone.

That was the second perk for the Trojans: Williams is clearly that much of a natural athlete. While he assuredly practiced punts all week, if not longer, not every quarterback is comfortable enough or coordinated enough to kick a ball 54 yards in the air so it bounces another 10 into the end zone. Shanking such a punt would have been about as troubling as letting Notre Dame block one. But Williams was completely comfortable with the task.

On Williams’ second punt, Joseph had drifted back far enough to fair catch it at the 10-yard line. Presumably, an Irish halftime adjustment was to coach Joseph back for that when he saw Williams drop into a deep alignment for the punt. Joseph catching the punt would save 10 yards of field position, conceivably.

On first viewing, it seemed Joseph could have slipped into his moonlighting duties as Notre Dame’s punt returner and possibly expose USC’s offense in doing so. Analyst Kirk Herbstreit made a point of arguing for such.

On a second viewing, Joseph had called for a fair catch before the camera even panned to him. The Trojans’ receiver peeled around Joseph because the fair catch had already been waved for.

Watch the far right of this clip. When Joseph comes into view, note he never waves for the fair catch. He already had. (Pardon the sub-par quality of the below clip. It was recorded off a tablet early in the morning for the sake of illustrating this point.)

This was not a Joseph mistake. If he had tried to return that punt, two USC receivers were on hand to tackle him.

USC defense, Caleb Williams’ Heisman-worthy performance never give Notre Dame an opening

Notre Dame v USC
© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Williams did not flash the Heisman stance in the end zone at first, instead waiting until he was approaching USC’s sideline after his second touchdown in Saturday’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame. But he could hardly have been blamed if he had channeled his inner Desmond Howard right away in the end zone.

The Trojans quarterback outshined his Irish counterpart even as Drew Pyne went more than three quarters without throwing an incompletion. No. 15 Notre Dame (8-4) pressured Williams plenty, but far more often than not, that backfired.

“Coach [Lincoln Riley] always tells me I am athletic sometimes,” Williams said to ABC‘s Holly Rowe after the game. “So use my legs when I can and go out there and be special.”

If the Irish defensive line opted entirely to not pursue Williams in the backfield, it may have been able to contain him, but even amid responsible pass-rushing, Williams dazzled his way out of trouble and up the field for gains.

“You guys saw his ability just to extend plays,” senior linebacker JD Bertrand said. “That was one of the biggest things, his ability to keep the play alive, even though it really should be a dead play. To escape the pocket and still keep it going, it led to guys — you have to plaster downfield and it led to those extra pass yards, and then as well it led to him getting explosive runs. That was one of the biggest things we needed to stop, and we didn’t do.”

After Williams’ third total touchdown, he showed less restraint, staring back at Irish senior linebacker Jack Kiser as he eased into the end zone, not quite taunting Kiser but certainly relishing the 31-14 lead. Williams did not make it out of the end zone before he struck the Heisman pose that time around, somewhat subtly slipping it in twice as he began back toward the Trojans’ bench.

He earned those celebrations on Saturday, both getting the win and presumably the Heisman, a performance so dominant that Notre Dame could hardly be faulted for falling short in its biggest rivalry. Williams finished with three rushing touchdowns and one passing, taking seven carries for 70 yards and throwing for 232 yards on 18-of-22 passing.

Pyne had one of the best games of his career, completing his first 15 passes and throwing for three touchdowns, but a fumbled zone-read keeper and an irresponsible cross-body interception undid those gains. Against a defense that entered the weekend with 24 forced turnovers, those mistakes played right into USC’s hands. More pertinently, they cut short Notre Dame’s few chances.

That fumble cost the Irish a promising drive, and that interception gifted Williams a short field to set up the game-clinching touchdown, at which point his offensive linemen made a show of placing a pantomimed crown on top of Williams’ helmet. In a rivalry, some measure of gloating is earned, though the Jeweled Shillelagh does not make the most dramatic on-field postgame prop.

Pyne connected with junior tight end Michael Mayer for two scores, presumably the last game for Mayer in a Notre Dame jersey. His nine touchdowns this season are an Irish record for a tight end, and he caught at least one pass in every one of his 36 career games. Mayer finished with 98 yards on eight catches, Pyne turning to him often as he threw for 318 yards on 23-of-26 passing. That 88.5 percent was the second-most accurate game in Notre Dame history, behind only Steve Beuerlein’s 10-of-11 (90.9 percent) against Colorado in 1984.

Yet, the Irish offense was slow out of the gates. A three-and-out on its first drive was just as unfruitful as a turnover on downs deep into Trojans territory on the second drive. Reaching halftime with just seven points meant the Trojans had time to build a lead, a 17-7 margin at the break.

“It’s difficult to play catchup to any team,” head coach Marcus Freeman said. “But when you’re not able to stop their offense, it’s extremely difficult. We weren’t able to do that at critical points of the game today.”

With each successful USC drive — scoring on its first two and three of four possessions in the first half, a one-possession edge granted by Notre Dame deferring after winning the coin toss, as well as five of its first six drives — the most-reliable Irish offensive approach became less viable. Pyne may have been productive, but the Notre Dame rushing attack is less likely to turn over the ball when it is humming. Once the Irish were behind multiple scores, a first-quarter reality at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, that ground attack lost its effectiveness.

“You think about the first half, we had three possessions, really,” Freeman said.

That was by design — and to mention it again, a result of that coin-toss choice — but when the first of those was a dud and the second stalled short of the red zone, the shortage of chances with the ball compounded into a shortage of chances to catch up. Notre Dame thus needed to speed up the game and abandon its ever-reliable ground game.

Logan Diggs and Audric Estimé combined for 18 carries for 77 yards, a stark dropoff from their last month of dominance. Since the Irish notched their first win this season, winning eight of nine games since starting 0-2, those numbers are the lowest for the combination except for when they took only 17 carries for 114 yards against Stanford, notably the only loss in that stretch. In the five games since then, the sophomore duo had averaged 30.6 combined carries and 169.2 yards per game, and 5.53 yards per rush attempt.

“I thought we would be able to run the ball more,” Freeman said. “But we were still efficient in what we were doing. When you’re not able to run the ball as you want, you have to throw the ball, and I thought we threw the ball really well.”

Perhaps well, but also not perfectly, as close as Pyne came. Anything short of perfect would not be enough while Williams roamed around the field.

USC’s defense was effective but not necessarily exemplary. With Williams at quarterback, it does not need to be. By stopping Notre Dame on its first drive, a three-and-out that gained four yards, and then stuffing a tight end Mitchell Evans-as-quarterback sneak attempt on fourth down on the second Irish drive, the Trojans defense had done its job.

Notre Dame’s defense could not do its.

“We had to get a stop defensively to give our offense a serious chance, and we didn’t do that,” Freeman said.

On this particular Saturday night, the only thing stopping Williams was a touch of restraint that justifiably escaped him when he was surrounded by his teammates on the sideline.

First Quarter
10:36 — USC touchdown. Tahj Washington 11-yard pass from Caleb Williams. Denis Lynch PAT good. USC 7, Notre Dame 0. (7 plays, 75 yards, 4:24)
3:29 — USC field goal. Lynch 31 yards. USC 10, Notre Dame 7. (9 plays, 37 yards, 4:51)

Second Quarter
6:14 — Notre Dame touchdown. Michael Mayer 22-yard pass from Drew Pyne. Blake Grupe PAT good. USC 10, Notre Dame 7. (9 plays, 80 yards, 4:53)
0:34 — USC touchdown. Williams 5-yard rush. Lynch PAT good. USC 17, Notre Dame 7. (10 plays, 75 yards, 5:40)

Third Quarter
8:21 — USC touchdown. Raleek Brown 5-yard rush. Lynch PAT good. USC 24, Notre Dame 7. (7 plays, 74 yards, 2:53)
5:54 — Notre Dame touchdown. Deion Colzie 23-yard pass from Pyne. Grupe PAT good. USC 24, Notre Dame 14. (5 plays, 75 yards, 2:27)

Fourth Quarter
14:53 — USC touchdown. Williams 3-yard rush. Lynch PAT good. USC 31, Notre Dame 14. (10 plays, 75 yards, 6:01)
11:29 — Notre Dame touchdown. Logan Diggs 5-yard rush. Grupe PAT good. USC 31, Notre Dame 21. (7 plays, 75 yards, 3:24)
2:35 — USC touchdown. Williams 16-yard rush. Lynch PAT good. USC 38, Notre Dame 21. (4 plays, 24 yards, 2:21)
1:02 — Notre Dame touchdown. Mayer 24-yard pass from Pyne. Two-point conversion attempt failed. USC 38, Notre Dame 27. (6 plays, 56 yards, 1:25)

No. 15 Notre Dame vs No. 6 USC: TV, Time, Preview & Prediction


Every so often, Marcus Freeman’s honesty emphasizes how young he is. It is not just that the first-time head coach was only at Notre Dame as its defensive coordinator for one season before being promoted, but he is also just 36 years old.

Freeman has assuredly watched a few Notre Dame vs. USC games, but he was a sophomore at Ohio State when the most famous game of Freeman’s life occurred, the Trojans topping the Irish courtesy of the infamous Bush Push in 2005. The Buckeyes were wrapping up a win against Michigan State as this rivalry kicked off, coming back from an early 10-0 deficit.

So Freeman turned to a Notre Dame expert this week for some insights into this rivalry. 

“I spent some time [Monday] morning actually talking to [Irish offensive coordinator Tommy] Rees,” Freeman said. “He’s been out there twice, once or twice as a player and then once as a coach. I know he was out there in 2018.

“I played out there in 2008 when I was at Ohio State, but to be a part of this rivalry for the last game of the year, and there’s a lot on the line for both teams.”

Rees has, in fact, enjoyed two trips to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum capping unbeaten regular seasons, not to mention a win out west in his third career start in 2010. If ever there were moments for USC to stymie Notre Dame dreams, it was in 2012 or 2018. Instead, the Irish clinched championship chances on the road, certainly a sweeter venue to do so at than Stanford’s Farm.

All of which brings us to today, when No. 15 Notre Dame (8-3) can do what USC did not on those occasions, upset the No. 6 Trojans (10-1) and halt their Playoff hopes.

TV: ABC has the broadcast tonight with its top booth on the call, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit. The latter will fly out from the College GameDay set in Columbus, Ohio, a bit of an irony given Notre Dame started its season with that booth and that set in Columbus, Ohio.

TIME: 7:30 ET, with the West Coast’s sunset coming only minutes after kickoff tonight.

PREVIEW: The Irish have played some talented quarterbacks this season, most notably Heisman frontrunner CJ Stroud to open the season and North Carolina sophomore sensation Drake Maye later in September. Notre Dame kept them both in check.

But neither was playing as well as Trojans star Caleb Williams of late.

“He is a talented quarterback,” Freeman said, sounding nearly exasperated. “We have faced some really good quarterbacks this season, and he is one of the best I’ve seen. His arm strength is one thing. His decision-making is another, his ability to extend plays.

“He’s one of the few guys I’ve seen just continuously break tackles. Yeah, he can make people miss, but he breaks tackles. Guys have their hands on him and he continues to stay up and that can be devastating to a defense. That can make you try to do something outside of what your responsibility is on defense. I want to make a play, I’m going to try to rush around this guy instead of staying in my lane. You have to stay in your rush lanes, but you can’t play cautious.”

If any Notre Dame unit should be disciplined enough to toe that line, it is the Irish defensive front-seven. With the exception of junior defensive end Rylie Mills, every starter up front for Notre Dame is a senior, and Mills may not even technically start. Among the linebacker rotation, the only action from a non-senior may be sophomore Prine Kollie’s limited snaps.

But in the secondary, the Irish may have a concern.

“We got to cover those wideouts and continue to mix up the coverage we play against [Williams],” Freeman said. “Continue to do your job, stay in your rush lanes. If you have an opportunity to bring him down, bring him down and bring your feet and don’t dive.”

Notre Dame will not have senior cornerback Cam Hart tonight, dealing with yet another shoulder injury. Northwestern safety transfer Brandon Joseph should be back from a high-ankle sprain, but losing Hart against the Trojans’ bounty of receiving weapons may leave freshman Jaden Mickey and/or junior Clarence Lewis in uncomfortable depths.

In that respect, it could be reminiscent of the last time the Irish visited Los Angeles, something only the fifth- and sixth-year players have done. Then a freshman, cornerback Tariq Bracy was repeatedly targeted by USC quarterback JT Daniels. It got to a point that the entire press box would point to Bracy before the snap whenever he was in single coverage.

Of course, Notre Dame won, anyway, sealing a Playoff berth, not what is at stake for the Irish tonight but instead now a Trojans hope.

PREDICTION: Game flow is less an abstract concept than a box score often indicates. It was supposed to be a Notre Dame strength all season, with Rees’ opening game scripts an asset in 2021. Eight of the 13 Irish opening drives last year resulted in quality possessions, but only six of 11 have this season. More notably, that six of 11 trend was an early-season struggle, Notre Dame failing to put together a quality possession on its opening drive in three straight games to end September. Since then, Rees has directed a quality possession to open five of seven games, including each of the last two.

If that streak reaches three, then the Irish may spring the upset tonight as 4.5-point underdogs, as of Saturday morning.

That is an obvious claim: If you score early and possibly take a lead on the scoreboard, you have a better chance at winning.

But the thought goes beyond that. Notre Dame’s greatest strength matches USC’s greatest weakness: a dominant rush game of late meeting the worst rush defense in the country. The Irish want to lean into the ground game just as they did against then-No. 16 Syracuse and then-No. 4 Clemson. To do so, they need to remain in range of Williams’ explosive offense.

Rees’ early-season struggles early in games appear to be behind him. And that is reason enough to think Notre Dame will win yet again in Los Angeles.

Notre Dame 27, USC 24.
(Spread: 2-9; Over/Under: 3-8; Straight-up: 6-5)

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